Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Suit Up

As Barney Stinson of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother once said, “Nothing suits me like a suit”. And Barney’s philosophy of ‘suiting up’ to woo women has a point.  Leading men have worn dashing suits to win the leading lady since the beginning of film.  Here are some of my favorite suits and the men who wear them.

Lord Asriel in The Golden Compass

Lord Astril’s vest is similar in color to Lyra’s shirt to signify his secret, that he is her father

Daniel Craig may be known for turning heads in suits as that other Brit, James Bond, but his suit in the  The Golden Compass  stood out as a sharp mix between old world fabrics with modern cut. Set in a parallel universe, The Golden Compass takes place in world that has the futuristic technology of tomorrow with the art deco designs of the 30s and societal restraints of the Edwardian era. Craig’s character Lord Asriel is a proto-type of the British aristocrat of old, vast amounts of wealth at his disposal that he uses to continue his eccentric research and even a bastard child he stows away with his school chums. Costume designer Ruth Meyers described Lord Asriel’s costumes  as “Somewhat between ’20s Edwardian, ’40s all mixed in… the idea so that every time I thought I was going towards a period, I pushed it another way so that you got a sense of what is this.”  The brown tweed is hand-woven from the 30s but cut in the same style as a modern suit, the additions of a high collar shirt and vest tie in the Edwardian feel. The quality of the tweed and blue vest allude to Asriel’s blue blood and the tweed itself alludes to his scholarly studies.  Lord Asriel definitely stands out among the spires of Oxford.

Tony Stark in Iron Man

The blue shirt and ties were chosen to compliment the sky and also to allow him to stand out and seem out of place when it is destroyed during his kidnapping.

It takes a lot to stand out next to a suit made of iron but the suit Tony Stark dons to present the Jericho does just that.  Robert Downey Jr. ‘s turn as Tony Stark in Iron Man earned rave reviews from the public and critics and so did his costumes.  The crisp dark blue pinstripe suit made by David August was tailored perfectly to Downey and was chosen to stand out against the mountains. The pinstripes also allude to Tony’s millionaire status and make him appear larger than life.  While Tony literally sheds the suit for his Iron Man persona, it still stands out and still gets its own action figure.


Arthur in Inception

Arthur’s suits were designed to disguise his surprising abilities, such as fighting in anti-gravity, in a dream.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb may be the one in charge with the cool façade but Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Arthur is the definition of calm cool and collected. Arthur’s three piece suits represent his many layers and professionalism, unlike Cobb who wears more loose clothes to represent his unraveling. Costume Designer Jeffery Kurland purposely created a classic look for Arthur “Not wanting to date the film, I was trying to create an upscale world of business and intrigue with architecture being a constant metaphorical thread running throughout… definitely forward thinking, without being futuristic.” Arthur’s pin striped shirt combo’d with his black vest harks back to Jimmy Stewart. The cut of the suit as well as the material give it an edgy look. Kurland designed and made all of the suits for the film’s principals himself, and even some of their shoes.  

Peter Campbell in Mad Men

Pete’s blue suits also him maintain the illusion that the money from is wealthy background is still around

 A list of awesome suits would not be complete without one from the hit AMC series Mad Men. While Don Draper may be the epitome of a 60s playboy, it’s the young Peter Campbell’s suits that really draw the eye.  Peter is the youngest member of the shows firm and his suits reflect that youth. Costume designer Janie Bryant describes Pete’s wardrobe “He’s always in different shades of blue—it could be like a sharkskin or the gabardines or even a dark blue Glen plaid. It’s always in varying shades of blue, which is about the youthfulness of that character and the young generation on Madison Avenue.” By putting Pete in blue he stands out among the firms’ older members and it also lends to the competitive nature, not to mention they tend to match his eyes, something the secretaries tend to notice.  Pete’s blue suits cut a dashing high power youthful look of the swinging sixties.

Jack in The American

Jack may be ready for retribution, as seen by donning his Sunday Best for the religious procession, but his fate as a killer is evident by being one of the few in black.

George Clooney has appeared in a lot of movies in suits, and while I love him in  Up In The Air, there is just something tragic about him in those suits (Namely the life of loneliness, don’t you know we like to see George with some girl in the end!) Instead I prefer him in The American, where he plays a private assassin and custom firearms dealer who has fled to a small Italian town to escape assassins after him. While there he falls for a beautiful prostitute and in the films climax he asks her to escape with him. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb describes the characters costumes “Jack needs to be anonymous, to blend in with his surroundings. He is trying to avoid his past and to be a normal person, so he picks a small Italian town, almost a village, to live in. To have someone like George Clooney playing such a character for me meant stripping away from him anything that was glamorous or fashion forward.” However, Jack does don a dashing suit for the films climax that serves to show his transition from the cold hearted recluse to a participating protector.

Rusty Ryan in Ocean’s 11

Pitt convinced costume designer Jeffery Kurland to create a sleek look for his character, so he would look like a racer, much like Elvis in Viva Las Vegas

Ocean’s 11 is chock full of good looking men, and suits too. It was difficult then for designer Jeffery Kurland to make a unique suit style for each of the 11 stars, not to mention over the course of three films. However, Kurland managed to do just that, and it’s the films two biggest stars that rightfully stand out.  Seeing as Clooney is already on this list, and that I am a bigger Pitt fan anyways, it’s his characters costumes I’ll focus on. As a card shark and con man Pitt’s character, Rusty, looks at home in the Las Vegas desert, donning light colors and various accessoreies such as designer sunglasses and rings, showing his confidence. Kurland states that the light color suits were chosen not just to match the Vegas setting but also because, “Brad is normally tanned and so the lighter shades of suit look great; the opposite is true for a fairer complexion…” But as Kurland goes on “…now these are great suits, but I am not sure that it is the suit on its own that makes the man.”

This entry was published on February 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment, Feb. 2011 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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